By Sophie Idromenos
In the course of our lives, we encounter individuals who affect us profoundly and perhaps we alter their lives as well. In my first education class in college, the professor presented a critical question to me, inquiring why I was eager to teach. I recall writing,
I want to make a difference in one student’s life
Days later, when he returned the sheet, he marked it boldly in red ink across the top of the page, stating clearly, “Not just one life, but many”. As I reflected upon this experience, fifteen years later, I registered the wisdom of his powerful words. Throughout the years, countless students approached me in various locations, including stores and subways, explicitly declaring how much I had influenced their lives.
Recently, as I shopped for sneakers, I met one of my former 12th graders. This young man, who is now twenty four years old and has painstakingly strived to obtain his Bachelor of Arts in Communication in spite of his learning disability, demonstrated his gratitude for the lessons he learned from me, by acknowledging, “You taught us everything about design & technology, even if we didn’t want to learn it.” What an amazing feeling to witness this powerful transformation in my lowest achieving student! All these thoughts resurfaced as I contemplated the substantial influence of two remarkable dance instructors, Max and Lori, who impacted my life and played a prominent role in my dancing career.
You will never be a dancer
In reflecting on my experience with Max, he not only contributed his expertise to improve my dancing, but most notably, he helped to inspire an essential transformation in my life. In my earlier dance days, my coaches impressed in me the feeling that I would “never be a dancer.” Therefore, when I went to Max, I planned to quit dancing completely, but I decided to attend one more lesson before rendering the final decision. From day one, Max truly believed in me even when I could not believe in myself; this was the catalyst for positive change which renewed my passion for dancing. Aside from his proficiency as a dancer, (although it took a while before the world recognized the full extent of his remarkable talent), he was also an exceptional teacher. For instance, I recall his greatest strength was to emphasize only the areas for improvement versus criticizing my mistakes. Moreover, Max was attuned to my needs and specifically tailored the lessons to meet them; he was able to take any movement I presented and assist me in “developing” it to a much higher level. Furthermore, he taught me how to learn and build on my current knowledge. Although he was strict, he always exuded a sense of contentment and treated everyone kindly. After an entire decade has passed, I still reminisce about my experience and the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment. Regrettably, life presented me with a group of challenges that led to my hiatus from dancing.
After I stopped dancing, time passed slowly; however, after five years I met Lori, who transformed my life by helping me fulfill my dream to teach dance. At first, this seemed like an unattainable goal given the plethora of material I was expected to learn, but she was able to customize her lessons and break down the information into digestible bits. In comparing my experiences with Lori and Max, I observed several similarities between the instructors, including the fact that she listened to what I needed and set goals for each lesson based on my progress from the previous lesson. She displayed an extraordinary amount of patience and did not mind repeating or rephrasing when I made a request. Everyone has weaknesses in their dancing and I, certainly, was no exception. Nevertheless, Lori was able to think of creative ways to instruct me without allowing my weaknesses to dominate my dancing or impede my progress. I felt every lesson was a productive one. I arrived with half of the technical knowledge I required, but always left with twice the amount, which motivated me to practice and strive to reach my full potential as both a dancer and teacher.
As teachers we inspire
These instructors were not the only teachers to positively influence my dancing, but these two had the greatest impact on my life. I will be forever grateful to them and always aim to have a strong impact on my students as well. As a teacher, I have evidence that my teaching had far more reaching effects on students than the subject itself. To offer a recent example, my adult student, called me after returning from a wedding to say, “I never thought I could dance at my age but I always wanted to. You taught me the foxtrot, but you did more than that since you gave me the confidence to get up onto the dance floor in the first place. I wouldn’t have done that one year ago, but it felt great when I did it last weekend.” So I will depart with a final thought that I expect will alter the way you view your role: “As teachers, we inspire a difference in students’ lives, not only in their dancing ability.”